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Aida Miou

Birthday: March 3
Horoscope Sign: Pisces
Blood Type: A
 

A close friend of Natsuki’s. In the Art Club. Trustworthy, as well as a hard worker. Seems to get along well with Haruki.

 

——-

 

practice 7

The road from the school to the station had just the right amount of incline for a marathon.

But unless it was for P.E. class or they were late for school, no one would ever think of running there.

In fact, it was Natsuki’s first time sprinting full speed for a reason other than those mentioned above.

‘N-No one’s… come after me… right?’

She hesitantly looked behind her, but she couldn’t see anyone.

The flood of students leaving school had dispersed, so there wasn’t anyone in front of her, either.
 

She was only able to relax for a moment before a shock suddenly ran through her knees.

“W-Woah….!”

Her legs tangled together, and Natsuki was forced to make an abrupt stop.

The momentum made one of her loafers come off, but without any vigor or stamina left to hop back to her shoe, she simply walked back to it, letting the sock on her shoeless foot touch the ground.

“….G-Good thing no one saw that….”

Honestly, that was just way too lame.

While suffering a bit of a blow to her spirit, she managed to pick her loafer back up.
 

“Aww, looks like I’ll have to wash the inside once I get home…”

Were loafers even washable? Just thinking about the time and effort needed to find that out gave her a headache.

Still, it wasn’t like she could just go home with only her left shoe on.

As she bent down to put her loafer back on, sweat dripped down from her forehead and into her eyes.

She tried wiping it away with her cardigan sleeve, but her forehead was still sweaty. Her shirt was also damp with sweat, and clung uncomfortably to her back.

“Ugh, it’s just one thing after another…”

As she took out a towel from her bag, she looked up at clear, autumn sky with a sigh.
 

“….The sky is so high up…”

The air in autumn was different from summer, and her lungs stung a bit when she inhaled.

Soon, the back of her nose started to tingle too, and she quickly patted her cheeks with both hands.
 

‘If it’s so frustrating that you want to cry, you should have just tried harder…’

She bit down on her lip, and mentally scolded herself.

It didn’t seem like she’d be able to go by the saying, “No use crying over spilled milk,” today.

She remembered what had happened in the classroom earlier.
 

The moment she’d entered the art room, their adviser, Matsukawa-sensei, had a wide smile spread on her face.

Just as she started to wonder why, Matsukawa-sensei’s cheerful voice rang out through the room.
 

“Hayasaka-san, Aida-san, congratulations!”
 

She didn’t even need to hear the rest to know that it was to announce that the two had won prizes in the contest. Akari’s entry had been chosen for the Grand Prize, and Miou’s entry had been given an Honorable Mention.

The written notice with the contest results was hung up, and half-unconsciously, Natsuki scanned it for her name.

As she tried looking a second time, she realized what a poor sport she was being, and let out a forced laugh.

‘No matter how many times I look, my name isn’t going to be there…’
 

She felt a slight pain in her bottom lip.

She’d bitten down without realizing it, and the faint taste of iron spread through her mouth.

‘Huh? Why am I acting like this? Shouldn’t I be used to this by now…?’

Surprised by her own reaction, Natsuki stepped back from the circle of people surrounding the notice.

She didn’t think that she would be this disappointed.This wasn’t her first time being rejected, and she’d never placed a prize before, anyway.
 

“Senpai, congratulations. I knew that you would get picked!”

“Looks like you were able to keep your winning streak~”

“Come to think of, wasn’t there also a time when the President and Vice President took 1st and 2nd place together?”
 

She could hear the voices of the underclassmen congratulating Akari and Miou a distance away.

Natsuki thought about joining them, but she realized that her facial expression seemed frozen in place.

Her expression drooped, and she couldn’t lift the corners of her mouth. If she tried congratulating the two like this, it would only worry them.
 

‘I need to get out of here…. I should just go home for today.’

Natsuki quickly made up her mind, grabbed her bag, and headed straight for the door.

However, they must have heard her footsteps, as Akari and Miou soon called after her.
 

“Nacchan? Where’re you going?”

Akari sounded surprised. As much as possible, Natsuki replied in a way that made it sound like she was in a hurry.

“Dentist appointment! I forgot that it got moved to an earlier date.”

Akari and Miou seemed like they still wanted to say something, but Natsuki pretended like she hadn’t noticed and shouted back,

“Sorry, I gotta go!”
 

For the time being, Natsuki just wanted to get away from there, and focused on running as fast as she could.

She knew that no one was following her, but she was scared to look anywhere else but down.

‘….What did I even want to do?’
 

If she earned a prize in the contest, she would confess to Yuu.
 

That was what she had declared in front of Haruki, but it hadn’t been like a hopeful prayer or anything.

She’d simply wanted the courage to confess to him. If she could just get a little confidence boost, instead of being modest about it, she thought that she’d be able to proudly tell him her feelings.

‘But even that isn’t going to happen anymore…’
 

“Nacchan!”
 

Just as her eyes started to burn with oncoming tears, she heard someone call out her name from behind.

She thought about running again, pretending that she hadn’t heard them, but she couldn’t move. It was as if her feet had been sewn into the ground.
 

“I’m so glad… I caught up to you…. I thought I’d go home with you.”

Although she was gasping for breath, Akari’s voice sounded cheerful.

‘Why…? Why won’t you just let me be by myself?’

Natsuki desperately held back the urge to scream, and instead, answered like she usually would.
 

“….Just you? Where’s Miou?”

“Serizawa-kun came looking for her, and she went to go help out the Film Club.”

“I see….”

“Yeah.”
 

It was only one word, but she felt like Akari’s voice had suddenly lost its cheerfulness.

Right as she started to wonder why,  glossy black hair flitted into her vision. Akari’s long hair fluttered as she came around to stand in front of Natsuki.

As Natsuki stared blankly at her picturesque figure, Akari’s large, dark eyes focused on her.

“Nacchan, when are you going to confess to Setoguchi-kun?”
 

At first, she couldn’t comprehend what she’d just heard.

When Akari saw Natsuki gaping with her mouth hanging open, she tilted her head.

“Hm? Did you start going out with Ayase-kun?”

This time, her jaw literally dropped at the unexpected question.

Anger gradually started to build up, and it felt like she might explode with her emotions loose right then and there.
 

“…Akari, why would you ask something like that? What does that have to do with anything?”

Natsuki held back the urge to scream, and spoke as calmly as she could.

After all the advice that Akari had given her up until that point, this was a really terrible thing for her to say, she thought. But even so, there was a part of her that didn’t want to admit it.
 

Akari looked down sadly, and spoke in a glum tone that she never used.

“I don’t really understand you, Nacchan… You like Setoguchi-kun, and even though you said you’d confess to him for real instead of doing more rehearsals, didn’t you go on a date with Ayase-kun?”

Natsuki passed her limit all too soon, and she shouted back reflexively.

“I already said before, that wasn’t a date!”

“Miou-chan told me that Ayase-kun probably intended it as a date.”

“Wha….?!”
 

As she was suddenly confronted by the reality that she’d been avoiding, her vision flashed red.

When even Miou was brought into this, her dried eyes started to blur again.

‘Come on, keep it together! You’ll make her think that you’re crying because she guessed right.’

The harder she tried to control her tear ducts, the more difficult it became, so as a last resort, she turned her face away from Akari.
 

“….I don’t know anything about that. Honestly, Koyuki-kun didn’t say anything….”

“Nacchan, that’s not fair! Are you going to pretend you don’t care about Serizawa-kun either?”

Akari’s quivering voice interrupted Natsuki as she sounded like she was going to make more excuses.

‘No way, Akari’s… crying…?’

She looked over in confusion, and saw an expression she’d never seen on her friend’s face before.

Akari always smiled; she couldn’t remember a time she’d ever seen her angry or cry.

Other girls made fun of her, calling her overly optimistic, but Natsuki and Miou knew better. It was because Akari was too nice that she smiled all the time, because she never wanted to bother anyone or make them sad.
 

‘That’s right. That’s the kind of person Akari is…’

There had been a time when Natsuki had also thought of her the same way the other girls did. She even went as far as to think that she was always smiling because she was trying to earn points with people.

But as she got to know her, she realized that it was simply because Akari was a nice person.

‘There are times when she acts too much like an airhead, but I guess that’s just how honest she really is.’
 

Even now, Akari was giving a just and sound argument.

She was asking these questions because she felt something was off, and she wanted to understand.

‘….I have to face her.’

Natsuki clenched her fists, and began to speak to Akari, whose eyes were red from crying.
 

“I’ll admit that I acted unfairly about some things, but what did you mean about Haruki…?”

Akari sniffed and mumbled,

“Natsuki-chan, you were the only one that he said he liked.”

“….Eh?”

When she heard those words, her head went into shock, like she’d just been punched.
 

‘Could it be that… Akari heard Haruki’s confession rehearsal…?’

Just as she was about to clear it up as a misunderstanding, she stopped short.

She had no idea about how to prove that that had been a confession rehearsal. As the one who Haruki had rehearsed with, all she could do was try to convince Akari, the third party in this.

‘I wonder if she’ll believe me if I just explain it honestly.’
 

“Listen, Akari…”

She must have thought that Natsuki was about to say some kind of excuse, and shook her head to shut her out.

“Nacchan, just be honest and tell me the truth. Because in the end, he never said he liked my drawings, or Miou-chan’s either, you know?”

“…..Huh?”

Realizing that she sounded like an idiot saying that and nothing more, Natsuki quickly closed her mouth.

Akari furrowed her eyebrows together with a pout, and then expressed her thoughts fervently.
 

“As I was drawing the pictures to be used in the movie, I thought about a lot of things. I wondered, what is love? What kind of feeling is it? And then I realized that, for me, it’s the same as when I’m drawing, or I’m looking at a drawing that I like.”
 

‘Then, in other words, that means…’

Although her head was swimming in confusion, Natsuki tried her hardest to think, and soon came to one conclusion.

“From your point of view, because Haruki said that he liked my drawings, you think that…”

“He likes you, right?”

“S-So that’s what it was…..”

Suddenly feeling faint, Natsuki sunk down weakly into a crouching position.
 

“Hm? Was there something else?”

As Akari bent down to peer into Natsuki’s face, her eyes shone mischievously.

‘Then, does that mean she heard the rehearsal after all?’

She opened her mouth to ask her about it, but the words that came out were something entirely different.
 

“….Hey, Akari, what do you think about my drawings?”

“I like them. A lot.”

After answering, Akari blinked in surprise at herself with a, “Huh?!”

Natsuki was also embarrassed as how quickly she’d replied, but she smiled back at her.

“…I like your drawings too, Akari. I admire that unique atmosphere it has. And I like Miou’s delicate, and detailed drawings, too. I want to look at them forever.”

It gradually became more embarrassing to talk, and halfway through, she ended up speaking very quickly.

However, Akari seemed like she was able to hear everything clearly, and her face lit up.
 

“Nacchan! Nacchaaan!”

“Wahh?! Hey, Akari, I can’t breathe….!”

Akari’s slender arms wrapped around Natsuki’s neck while she was still crouching down.

‘It’s sweet… Smells like peaches…’

Just as she was about to lose focus, the grip of Akari’s arms tightened.

Although they looked thin, they’d been toughened up by carrying heavy canvases and art supplies when she bought them in bulk. Being hugged so tightly by these arms made tears come to her eyes again, but for a reason that was different from before.
 

“….I’m sorry for saying things like I did.”

Akari whispered in her ear with a shaky voice.

Natsuki felt something damp on her shoulder, and silently shook her head.

“No, I’m the one that’s really sorry.”
 

Wrapped in the scent of peaches, Natsuki slowly closed her eyes.

‘I’ll have to ask her what shampoo she uses later…’

She’d ask for the brand, and then they maybe they could go out and buy it together.

And, of course, they’d invite Miou to come along, too.
 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

Feeling fatigued, like she’d just swam several laps in the pool, Natsuki leaned her head against the window in the train.

‘I wonder if Akari made it in time…’

Natsuki looked towards the bus terminal in front of the station to search for her friend, who had gone there after seeing Natsuki off before she boarded the train. But the bus must have already departed, since she couldn’t see the bus oor Akari anywhere.
 

‘Maybe I should text her to make sure.’

She reached into her cardigan pocket and took out her cell phone.

Just as she was about to open it, she realized that the light indicating a new message was on.

‘Shoot, I didn’t even notice….’

Hoping that it wasn’t anything urgent, she quickly opened her inbox.

Along with several newsletters, there was a text from Miou.
 

“Akari-chan went after you. Were you able to meet her?

Let’s all go home together again tomorrow.

Good luck at the dentist!”
 

When she read the message in Miou’s gentle voice, she wasn’t able to hold back the fresh tears that sprung up and her vision became blurry again.

Natsuki rubbed at her eyes with her cardigan sleeve, and hovered her hands over the keys of her phone to type a reply.

However, she hesitated for a long time to bring up the “new message” screen.
 

‘Going home with the three of us tomorrow…? So Miou isn’t going to walk home with Haruki anymore?’

From what Natsuki had heard, after the contest had ended, this time it was Haruki who had told Miou that he couldn’t walk home with her. Apparently, it was because they were busy with finishing up the movie, but she had a feeling that wasn’t the only reason.

‘It’s only a feeling I have, though….’
 

She couldn’t keep still because she knew that Haruki planned to confess to someone.

‘Who could it be….? But I already decided that I’d support him no matter who it is!’

She leaned her head against the glass window with a thunk, and tried not to overthink it.

After all, she promised herself that she’d root for him without butting in.
 

Suddenly, her cell phone vibrated in her hand.

Coming to with a start, Natsuki slowly looked down at her phone.

“Huh? Koyuki-kun?”
 

Surprised at who the sender was, she spoke out loud on accident.

Her voice echoed throughout the mostly-empty vehicle, as it was still early in the day, but luckily, no one paid her much attention.

Placing a hand over her chest with a sigh of relief, Natsuki turned back to her phone and opened up the text.
 

“I’ll be waiting at the park.”
 

There was no subject line, with only a single sentence in the body, and not even a specified time. It hardly seemed like Koyuki at all, who usually wrote so methodically and politely, and she had to double check the sender name to be sure.   

However, the text had definitely been sent by Koyuki, leaving Natsuki at a loss.
 

‘It’d be better if I just went, right….?’

She could always just make up an excuse, saying that she hadn’t noticed the text because her phone had run out of battery, or that she’d fallen asleep.

Or should she reply, and find out what he wanted, first?

However, she was a bit reluctant to do either.

‘Even if I try asking over a text, I doubt that Koyuki-kun will just answer honestly.’

Of course, this was just another gut feeling that she had, but somehow, it seemed reasonable.
 

There were about two minutes until the nearest station. And from there, it would take ten minutes to walk to the park.

She typed in her reply that she would be there in about ten minutes, and closing her eyes, she hit the “send” button.

Koyuki immediately sent back a reply saying, “Thank you,” and her heart started to pound.
 

‘I wonder what Koyuki-kun wants to talk to me about. If… If it’s a confession, then….’
 

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
 

Koyuki was sitting on a park bench, and watching some stray cats play with each other.

Seeing the peaceful look on his face helped her nerves unwind a bit, making it more natural to speak in her usual cheery voice.

“Koyuki-kun, sorry to have made you wait.”

“Oh, not at all! I’m sorry for calling you out here so suddenly.”

Koyuki stood up from the bench and bowed to Natsuki in apology.

She found herself strangely admiring how polite he could be even in a casual setting like this one.
 

“….We haven’t had the chance to talk alone like this since that day, right?”

‘Straight to the punch!’

Feeling her heartbeat speed up, Natsuki clumsily nodded.

“At school, I always feel like Setoguchi-kun’s keeping an eye on me… But, I guess you reap what you sow.”

Unsure of how to respond, she could only shake her head silently.
 

It was obvious that Yuu and Koyuki were keeping a distance from each other.

They hadn’t been particularly close before, either, but whenever he joined Natsuki to talk with Koyuki about manga, he would casually make friendly jokes. But after what had happened that summer day, things had changed dramatically, and it was difficult for them to even speak to each other as classmates.
 

“I’m sorry for how Yuu acted before. I already cleared up the misunderstanding, so if you two just have the chance to talk again, then…”

Just as she was reassuring him that things between and Yuu would be fine now, she trailed off suddenly when she noticed that Koyuki was looking at her with a sad look in his eyes.

For a moment, she thought she might have said something to upset him, but nothing came to mind.

Throwing him a confused look, Koyuki muttered something.
 

“….It wasn’t.”

“Huh? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you….”

“What would you do if I said it wasn’t Setoguchi-kun’s misunderstanding?”
 

The previous sadness in Koyuki’s eyes faded, and they now shone with an earnest light.

He was staring straight at her, as if probing the inside of her mind, and it made her uncomfortable.
 

But, that was it.

Once she took a deep breath, she was able to organize her thoughts again.

‘I feel like Koyuki-kun is always trying to hide what he really means….’

She faintly recalled how Akari had confronted her directly. Compared to her, it felt like he was sidestepping around the actual topic.
 

“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Um, well, that was just a hypothetical question….”

Trailing off into silence, Koyuki finally bowed his head.

As she watched his shoulders drop helplessly, Natsuki then said something unexpected.
 

“You know, you’re kind of like me, Koyuki-kun.”

Natsuki’s eyes widened, surprised at what she had just said.

Koyuki also looked up, and stared at her in confusion.

‘Why do I think he’s like me? Is it because he hides what he really wants to say, and speaks with “if’s”….?’

As she thought it over in her head, the answer suddenly came to her.
 

Instead of confessing for real, Natsuki had chosen to do confession rehearsals.

Hiding his real intentions, Koyuki made up scenarios to ask about her feelings.

They were similar in that neither of them had the courage to face things directly.

They were also similar in how they tried to deny that fact.
 

“….I’m going to tell you something about me,”

Natsuki started off, and started to talk about the answer that she’d just realized.

“I’ve never had much self-confidence. I just desperately wanted something, anything, where I could say, ‘Yes! This is me!’ That was why I entered the art contest, but even then, I prepared myself for the worst.”

As she spoke, Koyuki listened to her attentively, without even blinking.

Encouraged by this, she revealed the feelings that she’d been keeping in her chest.
 

“I really wanted to earn a prize this time, but in reality, I was barely making progress with the piece I was submitting. I think I probably had it all planned out in my head somehow, and I’d prepared an excuse like, ‘I just didn’t win anything because I didn’t give it my all.’ Unlike me, Akari and Miou really tried their best….”
 

Speaking out loud like this, the feelings that she’d shut away started to reveal themselves.

Surprisingly, there was still a ray of light remaining at the bottom of the box that she’d locked away.
 

“I thought that I just wanted something—anything at all, just something that could give me more confidence, but I realized that it couldn’t just be anything. I realized that when there’s something that you really want to do, there’s no point unless you do it until you’re satisfied with it.”
 

‘I see, so this is how I really felt.’

When she’d found out that she hadn’t won anything in the contest, she didn’t feel sad that her piece hadn’t gotten a good evaluation.

She just felt discouraged, thinking that she wasn’t good enough.

In the end, she’d only entered the contest because she wanted something absolute, like to be praised by someone.
 

“Enomoto-san, what do you really want to do?”

Koyuki asked her in a very quiet voice, like a still and tranquil sea.

He spoke in the way he always had; it didn’t feel like he was trying to pry her for answers or anything. She could tell that he asked purely because he wanted to know.
 

Natsuki brought her index finger to her lips and grinned.

“I haven’t told anyone else yet. Can you keep it a secret for me until it’s ready?”

“Of course. After all, I li—…. I support you, Enomoto-san.”

Koyuki carefully chose which words to use, and then smiled at her.

Natsuki nodded in return, and spoke her newly-found dream out loud.
 

“What I really want to do is—”


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